Will Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak Get Royal Pardon and Escape 12-Year Jail Term?

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak is exploring all remaining legal options after being sent to jail to serve the 12-year sentence he received in the infamous 1MDB state fund scam. Najib, the first Malaysian prime minister to be sent to jail, started serving his sentence on Tuesday after lost his appeal against conviction in the apex court.

The only legal option available for the high-profile leader of the ruling party is to file a review petition. The other avenue is seeking the pardon of Malaysian king. According to legal experts both the options are extremely difficult.

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Reuters

Malaysia's Federal Court unanimously upheld Najib's conviction and ordered him to pay a fine of $46 million (RM210 million) in addition to the 12-year prison term.

Review Petition

According to the Channel News Asia, Najib's lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik is said to have told Malaysian media that his team would explore the option of filing a review petition. "I will not be able to say it now, but we will be discussing that possibility," Teh said.

However, the outlet reported, citing Malaysian lawyers, that the chances of the review petition being heard are low.

"This is an inherent power of the Federal Court under Rule 137 of the Rules of the Federal Court, where they can review any application to prevent injustice or an abuse of the court process,"
said criminal lawyer Goh Cia Yee. He explained that there is a very high legal threshold for the review applications to be heard.

Najib's legal team will have to convince the court that there was a miscarriage of justice or an abuse of process. In the highly unlikely scenario of this happening, the case will be heard by a new five-member bench of the federal court.

"If the court allows review applications regularly, there will not be a finality in litigation and so their decisions will not hold much meaning," Goh said, according to CNA.

Royal Pardon

The other option is to seek the pardon of the Malaysian king. The Malaysian media reported that Najib's legal team is considering this route as well. This is not a legal route but a but an executive process.

If Najib files for royal pardon, the King will have to consult the Pardons Board before taking a decision. Though the chances of getting a royal pardon are low, Najib would in all likelihood go ahead with the move as it will save his status as a member of the parliament for the time being. He is set to lose the status 14 days after the conviction but if he applies for pardon, he can remain an MP until the King makes the decision.

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Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor arrives before Najib's National Day speech in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur August 30, 2015. Reuters

Even as Najib's supporters rallied in front of the national palace in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and sought to submit a memorandum for his release, Malaysia's election watchdog Bersih started an online petition appealing to the King not to grant him pardon.

"With all our hearts we appeal to Your Majesty to consider our request to deny any appeal for pardon by Najib, who has brought shame to the country ... As a nation, we must not tolerate corruption or the corrupt, whoever that person may be," the petition said.

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Traffic passes a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 6, 2015. Reuters

The former prime minister was accused of transferring RM42 million, which amounts to around $9.8 million, into his personal account from the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund. During the probe into the scandal, investigators had seized 1,400 necklaces, 567 handbags, 423 watches, 2,200 rings, 1,600 brooches, and 14 tiaras worth $273 million from Najib's house.

1 Malaysia Berhad (1MDB) is a state-owned company meant to drive development and garner foreign direct investment for the country.

Najib faced seven charges, three of money laundering, three of criminal breach of trust, and one of abuse of power. The Malaysian high court found him guilty in 2020.